We Are Not (Yet) 'One'

I worked as a volunteer at Spirit Rock Mediation Center yesterday. I thought that I might be writing today about "Secular Buddhism" as taught very well by Stephen and Martine Batchelor. However, something else disturbed the force -- something appalling and hypocritical. I deeply respect this organization, but I know it can do better than this.

I stood in the small office during lunch break when a woman came up to ask where she might sign up for the day-long event on Sunday. The other volunteer in the office turned quickly and said, "I'm sorry, it's for P-O-C." I don't think she actually spoke the letters -- it was more as if she mouthed them, "P-O-C".

"What's POC?" the woman asked.

"People of Color," was the whispered response. The woman looked perplexed.

"You're kidding," I blurted as I looked to the events coordinator to tell me that this wasn't so.

"It's for people who self-identify as a person of color," she explained in a mildly apologetic tone.

"I'm Jewish," replied the woman, as if it were a credential for such situations.

"You're cheeks are blushed -- maybe you just need a little more sun." My simplistic solution was dismissed without appreciation.

Apparently, in castrated Marin County politically-correct speak, a "self-identified person of color" translates to "a person who has feelings of separateness based upon the level of pigment in their skin." There also seems to be a component of wanting to be with one's own kind, again based on pigment. This sense of skin tone-based separate self is now reinforced as a Dharma gate for some activities at Spirit Rock. What an enlightened society we pretend to be -- or should it be "they"?  Dualism gets confusing.

I watched as a woman was turned away from Spirit Rock because of the color of her skin! The only option given to her was she was pointed to the "Suggestion Box" and told that she might state any objections there (she walked away instead). To add to the irony, this woman was just coming off retreat. There is always that "come back to reality" that hits one in the face when one comes off retreat, but this woman was hit with it before she even left the Spirit Rock grounds.

Separateness doesn't stop there. Regularly, yoga classes are restricted for women only -- a Y chromosome constitutes a hinerance to yoga practice at Spirit Rock.

If "self" is a delusion, are "POC-self" and "XX-self" special cases? We know the answer, of course, but we have to whisper it - it doesn't pass the test of light. The political issues have undercut the underlying social values. You'd think that those who self-identify as Buddhist would find a more enlightened approach to offer those who self-identify as separate. 

I love Spirit Rock and I appreciate the dedication and insight that so many teachers and staff offer to the adaptation of Buddhism to western culture. But, somebody doesn't appear to get the concept of non-duality and an open sangha -- somebody's not minding the store -- somebody's a hypocrite.

This can be fixed easily. Let's not segregate self and community by unskillful attachment to delusion and duality. It's quite simple and might appeal to those who self-identify as enlightened.


  1. Couldn't agree more. Might it be worth bringing this to the attention of the decision makers? Would want to do that with solution in hand. Talked to some peeps at SR yesterday about this - seems they are having a PoC event which will include PoC 'supporters' so maybe they're seeing the light already?

    One person I spoke with acknowledged the problem, but said 'we're in a tough position - can we tell a group of men who want to do a men's group that they have to allow women? Or vice versa?'

    I didn't have a good answer for that.

    - Oz

  2. Worth noting: it's not just Spirit Rock - check this out from East Bay Med Ctr in Oakland:

    "In keeping with our commitment to Diversity, some Sitting Groups may be reserved for practitioners from specific under-represented communities, e.g., People of Color, LGBTQI/SGL communities, youth and young adults.

    Participation in Sitting Groups is offered for no fee, in order to make them available to the widest possible audience. Instead, practitioners are offered an opportunity at the end of each session to make a voluntary offering, to the level of their ability, to support the teacher and the center. This is known as the practice of “dana,” or joyful generosity. (See About EBMC.)"

    Don't the concepts of 'reserved for practitioners from specific under-represented communities' and 'make them available to the widest possible audience' seem to, I dunno, umm, totally contradict one another?

    It's the California disease - group rights nonsense. Invariably, group rights wind up squishing individual rights, and lead to resentment and perpetuation of resentment on both sides, IMO. Because there is no such thing as a group 'right' - all groups are comprised of unique individuals and in abstracting to group level, you lose - in fact, discard - the value and meaning that matters. Only individuals can even HAVE rights - to try to extend that concept to groups is to torture logic and reality and to render the notion of 'rights' meaningless. It's never the group experience that causes suffering - it's always the individual experience. You would think that Buddhists would get that.

    But - the problem here is not Buddhism, per se - it goes, IMO, deeper. I said it was the 'California disease', but was being facetious - it's a political disease, in fact, because group rights are a political fiction cooked up by leaders of political parties largely to benefit themselves. In this case, by the liberal political party in America (ya know, the one which is allegedly anti-war but somehow is busy expanding the warfare state - and thus the profits of the folks for whom they, like their opponents, actually work; 'representative democracy' being a convenient fiction, a myth, an illusion which underlies most of the violence in the world today) - and as far as I have been able to determine, the American Buddhist movement is one gigantic liberal echo chamber, politically speaking. Note that I say this as a non-liberal, non-conservative - in fact, I'm an anarchist - opposed equally to BOTH of the prevailing political parties because they are actually pursuing the same agenda via a difference in rhetoric. Politics is violence. Which of course raises an even larger issue: are Buddhists who work with governments via the political system complicit in the violence upon which the modern State is wholly predicated?

    I think the discriminatory practices we're talking about here are simply one manifestation of a system that is so heavily constructed from lies and distortions of reality - it's what one would expect to emerge from such a corrupt system.

    Not that I feel strongly about it or anything.

  3. BTW, a quick follow up because I know this will get misinterpreted.

    When I say there are no such thing as group rights, the typical comeback is: what about the civil rights movement for African Americans, etc?

    That was simply a case of *human* rights - which had been denied - being properly restored. Think about it: that movement was not intending to give anyone *more* rights than anyone else (at least, that was not MLK's 'dream') - it was to give blacks, particularly, the same rights as whites.

    So - civil rights are human rights - the civil rights movement was a (long, long overdue) restoration of human rights to a population which had been wrongly denied them by government at all levels for well over a century.

  4. Spirit Rock recently held an event for "People of Color and their Allies". The 'Allies' part seems to attempt to address the prior exclusion of people devoid of color. I'm still at a loss to understand the justification for the use of "color" (whatever that means to some one) as a distinguishing factor in a Buddhist community that teaches "oneness". Since I support all people in the community, as well as the animals that roam the grounds, perhaps we are all allies and I might be welcome (at least until someone reads this blog entry). But, I am concerned by the fact that an organization that teaches and trades on Buddhist philosophy is supporting a superficial, dualistic and racist distinction - it seems so unwise, unwholesome, and "un-Buddhist".

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